Removal of post office boxes is concerning as it makes postal workers’ jobs harder

A U.S. Postal Worker monitors packages on a conveyor belt at a processing and distribution center on April 29, 2020, in Oakland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images).

Last week, a photo of a man loading USPS mailboxes on to a truck in downtown Columbus had gone viral on Facebook and Twitter. Many social media users had shared the photo, outraged, with many saying that these box removals had been done only days prior, shortly after President Donald Trump’s contentious words directed at the USPS, and talks of mail sorting machines being removed, only a couple months before the upcoming election.

Well, turns out, that the image was taken right before the George Floyd Protests — specifically May 29, not early August as many posts had asserted.

According to the USPS, box removal is fairly routine. A spokesperson had this to say:

The Postal Service reviews collection box density every year on a routine basis to identify redundant/seldom used collection boxes as First-Class Mail volume continues to decline. Based on the density testing, boxes are identified for potential removal, and notices are placed on boxes to give customers an opportunity to comment before the removal decision is made. This process is one of the many ways the Postal Service makes adjustments to our infrastructure to match our resources to declining mail volumes.”

Yet and still, the USPS says they’re not doing any box removals or any changes to mailing routines for at least 90 days, according to a USPS Spokesperson for Ohio, in an email on Aug. 17. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy affirmed this nationwide, the next day in a press release.

All’s well that ends well, right? Should we be concerned about USPS box removal?

Maybe. 

The Postal Service has cited “Declining mail volume” as the reason for postbox removal. In a press release on Aug. 7, they give numbers on the declining revenue and volume of first-class mail — roughly 10% nationwide.

However, when asked for more granular, state-level data about the decline of mail volume, the USPS representative contacted on Aug. 17 did not have that information. 

A paper published in 2015 from the USPS Inspector General does support that mail volume has been declining nationwide. However, this study does show that the decline, at least in 2013, was not uniform. In the study, the Inspector General observed mail volumes from 1995 to 2013 — and split locales into several categories — “High Decline, Medium Decline, and Low Decline”. In the High decline, locales had seen a more than 70% decline in volume. Low decline, less than 30%. 

Larger locales, such as Atlanta, had seen a high decline.

“Their mail use still supports the postal network in these areas, and the Postal Service is still providing services that customers value. The Postal Service should be proactive in identifying those customers, determining why volume has declined so much in these areas and meeting the needs of the remaining customers and volume, rather than just scaling back service in these areas.” said the Inspector General in regards to curtailing service in high decline areas.

For lower decline areas, the Inspector General found results inconclusive but recommended that the USPS investigate why. The paper explicitly says that age, income, or education do not explain the lack of reasons why mail service didn’t decline as sharply in those regions. 

In 2020, the USPS has become a hot topic. Right now, it seems as if there are multiple issues between the USPS workers, the USPS itself, as well as the POTUS aiming directly at dismantling the USPS. 

More than a few postal workers have been adamant about challenging Postmaster DeJoy’s policy change decisions — as profiled in the New York Times. Many postal workers have openly said that policy changes have made their jobs harder, and many people have reported on very slow or missing mail service as of late. 

But once again, in Ohio, a single image on twitter is not a full story. Are those boxes on that truck being removed permanently? Where were they removed from? Were they replaced? Are they being removed from “low volume” locales? 

When asked on Aug. 18, the USPS representative said they did not have the information as to where the boxes in the twitter image had been removed from. The representative also did not have information as to where boxes had been removed from as a result of their latest round of density testing, either.

Whether or not boxes have been removed from locations important to the 2020 presidential election is very possible — and the effects remain to be seen.